What to Know About White Oak Flooring Before You Buy

White oak flooring wood floors
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Hardwood floors have been wildly popular for centuries, and for good reason. They are extremely durable, accept many finishes readily, and, when properly cared for, can last for generations. Beyond sheer practicality, hardwood floors are also beautiful additions to both traditional and modern homes. Of all the hardwood varieties out there, white oak remains a fan favorite alongside its close relative red oak, but white oak, and oak in general, has a few key features that make it a good choice for flooring.

What Is White Oak Flooring?

White oak is a domestic hardwood, meaning it is grown in North America. The trees are found mostly on the eastern side of the country, from northern parts of Florida to southern regions of Canada. White oak is readily available as a flooring material and, as hardwood flooring pricing goes, is reasonably affordable—especially when compared to walnut, cherry, and popular imported options.

In recent years, white oak has surged in popularity, often seen installed in a herringbone pattern with a natural finish. However, one of the reasons for white oak’s massive popularity is its ability to wear a variety of finishes well. It is relatively neutral in color and accepting of a wide range of stains, making it possible for homeowners and designers to customize the look to suit their vision, whether that's light or dark wood floors.

White Oak vs. Red Oak

White oak and red oak are closely related but differ in color and other key characteristics.

White Oak
  • Tight, linear grain

  • Neutral, yellow undertones

  • More accepting of different stain colors

  • Modern appearance

  • More water-resistant

Red Oak
  • Shorter, dramatic grain

  • Reddish-pink undertones

  • Less accepting of different stain colors

  • Traditional appearance

  • Less water-resistant

Engineered vs. Laminate Alternatives

Because of the expense associated with white oak flooring, consumers often opt for alternatives that maintain the wood's signature aesthetic while forgoing its signature price tag. The most common "hardwood-like" alternatives are engineered and laminate, with the former being closest to the real thing. In fact, these days, engineered hardwood flooring is a worthy replacement for authentic hardwood flooring. However, laminate is far from the real thing, though it does have some benefits of its own.

Engineered
  • Hardwood top with plywood bottom

  • Can often be refinished

  • Lower price than solid wood

  • Looks nearly identical to solid wood

  • Adds value to your home

Laminate
  • Vinyl flooring with printed wood pattern

  • Cannot be refinished

  • Can visually mimic expensive materials

  • Relatively inexpensive

  • Quick and easy installation

So, if you are after the look of white oak but your wallet is not convinced, both engineered and laminate options come with several benefits at much lower price tags. Engineered hardwood will get you closest to the look and feel of solid wood while outlasting its laminate counterpart. However, laminate materials have come a long way and, when installed properly, offer a surprisingly durable finish.

Tip

When shopping for engineered hardwood, look for options with a thick wear layer. The thicker the hardwood layer, the more refinishing potential the flooring has. This translates to a longer lifespan for the floor.

Installing White Oak Flooring

For amateur and experienced DIY enthusiasts alike, installing a white oak hardwood floor may seem easy enough. You simply cut to length, slide the tongues into the grooves, and fasten the boards in place. However, there are a few key tips and tricks that will make installation easier and ensure the floor's durability over time.

One of the biggest mistakes hardwood flooring installers make is skipping the acclimation process. When wood enters a new environment, such as the home in which it will be installed, it begins to acclimate. The new environment may be colder and drier than the environment the wood was stored in or vice versa, and the wood will expand and contract accordingly. If wood is not allowed to reach its equilibrium moisture content before installation, major damage can occur post-installation. While equilibrium occurs at different points according to wood species, environment, and a multitude of other factors, it is a good idea to let the wood acclimate to its final destination environment for at least three days.

Acclimation is necessary for laminate and engineered varieties of white oak flooring, as well. Some engineered wood flooring options require as much as 7 days of acclimation.

What Is Equilibrium Moisture Content?

Equilibrium moisture content, or EMC, is a term used to reference the point in which wood is no longer absorbing or releasing moisture. At this point, the wood has fully acclimated to its environment.

Concerns to Consider

Neither white oak flooring nor most other hardwood options come with a lengthy list of cons. Hardwood has been a gold standard in the flooring industry for years for a reason. In fact, the majority of downsides related to hardwood flooring come as a result of improper installation. When people cite issues with warping, cupping, cracking, and other damage, it is likely a result of improper acclimation, incorrect installation, or a structure and subfloor that were not suited for hardwood installation in the first place.

When weighing the pros and cons of white oak, always consider the source and the circumstance. For instance, white oak is a very hard material. Its hardness is what leads to its durability and long life. However, white oak's hardness can also lead to cracking when not properly installed and supported.

The main concern with white oak flooring is that, though it is a very hard wood, its Janka rating is not as high as that of other options like maple, hickory, and many popular Brazilian varieties. While this likely will not affect white oak's day-to-day performance, it could technically mean that it would need to be refinished sooner than its more durable competitors. This is, however, debatable, as the quality and durability of the finish play a major role in this outcome.

What Is a Janka Rating?

The Janka hardness test is a common way of determining the hardness of wood by measuring the force in which it takes to press a steel ball into a sample of wood.

What the Finished Product Looks Like

A properly installed white oak floor can look almost any way you like. Because white oak can be finished in a variety of ways, from rustic and distressed to elegant and refined, it is one of the best options for all types of hardwood installations. Whether you choose to leave it natural or apply a dark stain, white oak tends to look great no matter what you throw at it.